The first impression of kendo is that it involves lots of hitting with bamboo swords and yelling, but this Japanese martial art’s principles go much deeper. Appealing to everyone from children to grandparents, Townsville Kendo Club manager Paul Willis likens it to “full contact 3D chess”. We caught up with Paul, who discovered the sport in 2010 when searching for something to do with his sons, to find out four things we didn’t know about kendo, but first let’s introduce you to what it is…
“A lot of people come to training with misconceptions from the movies: They have seen actors learn big flashy complicated moves in a very short time”
Kendo in a nutshell
Kendo teaches sword techniques and competitive rules that can be applied in a competitive environment to test your ability to identify and exploit opportunity. Participants aspire to compete against a training partner, and get a ‘perfect cut’ by initiating an attack or by responding correctly to the other person’s attack.
Kendo fact 1 – It’s not about winning… it’s about winning well
“The particular element that kendo emphasises is the identification and exploitation of opportunity against your adversary. Unlike other competitive martial arts, it is not enough to win – you have to win well to have a point awarded by judges. You can only choose from four designated targets, hit with the designated (ideal) part of the blade, must maintain good posture throughout and demonstrate you did what you intended to do instead of hitting by accident.”
“We teach that anger, surprise, confusion and fear destroy your ability to identify and take opportunity; and we train to discipline the mind to reduce or remove these effects”
Kendo fact 2 – It’s a rewarding and flexible journey, but not a short one
“A lot of people come to training with misconceptions from the movies: They have seen actors learn big flashy complicated moves in a very short time. None of our moves are flashy – flashy moves take too long to execute. Few of our moves are complicated – in the heat of the moment, simple is best. But becoming proficient against a real opponent takes a LONG time. So be prepared to still be trying to get it right after 20, 30, or 40 years. We can promise you a rewarding journey, but not a short one. Some people train for 12 months before learning how to recognise an opportunity. It may be another 12 months before they can recognise an opportunity AND do something about it. If people continue for this long, they are likely to stay and embark on a lifelong pursuit of increasing the frequency and quality of their success against increasingly better-qualified opponents. Kendo instructors have a motto – ‘Lifelong Kendo’. Unlike some sports, attendance at kendo training can be flexible. Most train two or three times a week, but we have miners on fly in fly out, as well as university and high school students that have to reprioritise for exams and then come back to training. We would much rather you balance your kendo with other life commitments and are still doing kendo at 80, than push too hard and quit because of stress or injury.
Kendo fact 3 – It’s a mind game. And a dignified one at that
“We teach that anger, surprise, confusion and fear destroy your ability to identify and take opportunity; and we train to discipline the mind to reduce or remove these effects. We teach that winning is not the objective of competition, that exploring the limits of your skill and cognition is a more worthwhile objective; and your training partner is a valuable resource to this end, not an enemy that needs to be defeated at all costs. We value nobility, dignity and grace over brutality, uncontrolled aggression and ego. A lot of people think kendo is dominated by regimental discipline and angry instructors: It is true that EVERYONE in kendo yells to raise spirits and instil urgency and vigour, but straight after we’ll be smiling and shaking hands or patting each other on the back. Socially as well, kendo has a long history of fellowship and camaraderie amongst the players, their family and friends.
“It teaches children valuable life lessons about fitness, perseverance, goal setting, self-discipline, attention spans and maintaining enthusiasm”
Kendo fact 4 – It doesn’t hurt (mostly)
“A lot of people ask ‘Does it hurt?’ Indeed, I often call kendo ‘full contact, 3D chess’, but the full contact part is the bamboo striking a protected part of armour at full speed. It can be alarming, but does not hurt. To be honest, infrequently someone misses the protected part of an experienced player’s armour. This might feel as bad as someone slapping you on the thigh with an open hand, but this is rare. I have played soccer, rugby and touch and got hurt more in each single season of those sports than four years playing kendo combined. This is an activity for men, women, young and old. It’s great for primary school-aged children as a large part of the early training is physically conditioning the body and disciplining the mind to the rules for them to compete using the more cerebral aspects later. Because the acquisition of knowledge takes so long (a whole of life journey through middle age and into senior years) it teaches children valuable life lessons about fitness, perseverance, goal setting, self-discipline, attention spans and maintaining enthusiasm.”
Townsville Kendo is running a beginners’ course from Wednesday, February 25 to Friday, March 27. You do not have to complete the beginners’ course to start training at Townsville Kendo – you can start training anytime. But Paul says: “Sometimes it may feel a little daunting, turning up to a new activity by yourself, and training alongside other members who have been doing it longer than you. The course is therefore a good opportunity to start your training with people at the same skill level, and to have the training tailored to the requirements of first time beginners.”
Regular training is at the Upper Ross PCYC on Wednesday and Friday nights from 7pm to 9pm. Beginners should turn up in sports attire such as shorts and t-shirt. The club has equipment that can be borrowed to participate in training.